5 Present-Day Social Movements LGBTQ+ Students Care About

Many of today's social movements intersect with LGBTQ+ students' interests and passions. Read more to discover the issues that motivate LGBTQ+ students.
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R.B. Brooks (they/them) is an educator and writer who focuses on queer and trans college students, Midwest culture, conference planning, and social change. They are director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity and p...
Updated on May 8, 2023
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Cobretti D. Williams, Ph.D. (he/him), is a scholar, writer, and editor. Cobretti's research and writing focuses on the experiences of historically excluded students and faculty and staff in higher education. His work has been published in the Journal...
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  • LGBTQ+ people have a rich history of participating in social movements.
  • Issues LGBTQ+ students care about occur both on and off campus.
  • LGBTQ+ students of color hold a unique position to contribute to social change.
  • Many of the movements LGBTQ+ students are involved in are intersectional and interconnected.

LGBTQ+ history informs us that social movements are deeply interconnected, such as the relationships between transgender icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera with organizers of the Young Lords and the Black Panther Party. This history models the intersectional nature of LGBTQ+ movements and guides LGBTQ+ college students on how to be in meaningful relationships with others to enact social change.

Due to the realities of transphobia, homophobia, and other forms of oppression that impact LGBTQ+ communities, LGBTQ+ college students are commonly called to action on their campuses and in surrounding communities.

Here are five present-day social movements that have ignited the passion and protest of LGBTQ+ students today.

1. Combating Anti-Trans Legislation and Policies

As anti-transgender legislation continues to be introduced and passed in many states, the impact on LGBTQ+ college students is significant. While trans children have been a major focus of recent legislative maneuvers, college students are also deeply affected.

Trans people's participation in K-12 sports has been a priority of anti-trans legislation and policy making. This focus on sports connects directly to public outcry in response to Lia Thomas, a swimmer at UPenn who is the first openly trans woman to win an NCAA Division I championship in any sport after winning her event in March 2022.

College students continue to push on campus decision-makers to improve the climate for LGBTQ+ communities. Some advocacy tools students use include staging sit-ins to oppose hiring policies that discriminate based on sexual orientation and using social media to call out restrictive policies. Students can also pen open letters to the NCAA advocating for mindful policy changes that directly involve transgender and nonbinary athletes.

2. Climate Justice

Preparing for climate change, increasing sustainability efforts, and reducing carbon emissions are all on college students' radars. On some campuses, students are collaborating with departments and task forces to enact necessary changes, such as supporting a campus's green revolving fund initiative.

On other campuses, students are taking direct action to push on universities' inaction around climate justice. Students and supporters involved in various climate justice initiatives in Columbus, Ohio disrupted an Earth Day event at Ohio State University. These students protested the Ohio State president for receiving an award for her climate change efforts — which protestors felt contradicted the president's acceptance of money from fossil fuel companies for campus operations.

One of the participating organizations, Sunrise Columbus, is a part of The Sunrise Movement. This organization has hubs nationwide and many college-aged participants who are committed to ending climate change and creating good-paying jobs in the process.

3. Racial Justice

Campus activism focused on racial justice has deep ties to the legacy of the Civil Rights era. At that time, students demanded major changes, such as Black studies and women's studies departments, Black student unions and organizations, and equitable treatment of BIPOC students on college campuses.

With the Civil Rights movement as a foundation, students have showcased in recent years how they will mobilize in the face of racial injustice. For example, Concerned Student 1950 demanded that the University of Missouri President Tom Wolfe resign in 2015 amid concerns that he didn't have tangible plans to address the culture of racism on campus.

In the aftermath of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there has been a surge in efforts to reconcile the legacy of racism and anti-Blackness on college campuses. Various efforts and actions from students have included calling for changes to campus safety models, creating and hiring positions to serve BIPOC students, and forming student organizations that support BIPOC students' needs.

4. Student Loan Relief and Forgiveness

In April 2022, the federal government extended the pause on student loan repayment for a sixth time, easing the burden on borrowers as the financial impacts of COVID-19 continue. The further delay in requiring borrowers to start repayment can be largely attributed to direct action and advocacy work by students and others with student loan debt.

According to the Williams Institute, 2.9 million LGBTQ+ college students have federal student loan debt. Emerging efforts to call on the federal government to forgive all student loan debt would have significant, material benefits for LGBTQ+ college students and BIPOC students who statistically bear a greater student debt burden.

The Debt Collective is one organization that is bringing together students and those impacted by student loan debt to call for complete loan forgiveness — and there are signs their efforts are paying off. On April 4, 2022, several organizations, including The Debt Collective, gathered at the Department of Education. Two days later, the Biden administration announced it was postponing repayment again.

5. Accountability for Campus Police and University Administration

The student organization Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities (UMN SDS) focuses on various social issues, such as improved labor conditions, environmental justice, and reproductive rights.

In summer 2022, after the widely viewed murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, UMN SDS demanded accountability from police and university administration. The group took various actions and drafted a proposal for a civilian police accountability council.

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Administrators on many other campuses were called on to evaluate their relationships with campus police and security in response to student action. Some responses from universities have been aligned with student demands, while other responses have been in opposition.

Police accountability on campus has been a pressing matter for historically underrepresented students for decades. In recent years, with fatal shootings of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals at the hands of campus officers such as at the University of Cincinnati and Georgia Tech, addressing policies and protocols around campus policing has directly impacted LGBTQ+ college students.